In 1969, NASA’s groundbreaking Apollo 11 mission allowed astronauts to set foot on the surface of the moon for the very first time (if you believe the moon landing was real, that is). Following this unprecedented success, it’s safe to say that US astronauts got a little starstruck. The incredible chance to learn all about our planet’s closest celestial neighbor led NASA to launch 6 other Apollo missions between 1969 and 1972 to collect samples, measure seismic activity, and analyze the atmospheric data of the moon.
However, the Apollo program came to a close just as abruptly as it began. Due to the high costs of the Vietnam war, Apollo 17 was the final spacecraft to bring people to the surface of the moon in 1972. No US astronaut has landed on the moon since.
Unmanned Lunar Missions
Throughout the mid-1970s, NASA shifted its focus to Skylab, which led to the creation of the International Space Station and the Shuttle program, but the brilliant people who worked for NASA continued to study the moon through other means. These unmanned projects included:
- The Clementine spacecraft (1994).
- The Lunar Prospector (1998)
- The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (2009 to present).
- The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (2009).
Through these studies, astronauts learned that the moon is chemically active, maintains a water cycle, and even stores rich soil in some of its craters. With this knowledge, and renewed government support, NASA has high hopes for what the moon could offer humans in the future.
The Artemis program has some pretty out-of-this-world goals—even for NASA. The goal of Artemis is to land a man and woman on the surface of the moon by 2024 and begin testing long-term space exploration technologies before (eventually) sending humans to Mars. Australia recently announced that it has partnered with NASA to reach this goal, and together they hope to establish sustainable exploration with commercial and international partners by 2028.
These may seem like lofty goals, but NASA maintains the same contagious excitement and determination it had for the Apollo program. NASA enthusiastically proclaims on its website that, “Going forward to the Moon will be the shining moment of our generation. This moment will belong to you—the Artemis generation. Are you ready?”